Ron Hainsey didn’t see his daughter, Alexa, before she left for school Thursday morning. So when Hainsey learned he had been traded and would be in a new city within of hours, he wanted to stop and see Alexa before he drove to the airport.
Not that Dad’s about to complain.
Not even close given what Thursday’s trade meant for the 35-year-old, stay-at-home defenseman.
Despite an NHL resume that includes 891 games, Hainsey has never before made it to the Stanley Cup playoffs, a torturous record that, barring something catastrophic, will be history in about six weeks.
“If you could pick a place, this would be the place,” Hainsey said before boarding his flight north. “The group that they have coming off last year, there’s a lot of excitement when you hear you’re going to Pittsburgh.”
Which might sound a bit strange given the recent run of bad luck the Penguins have had on their blue line.
As news was breaking Thursday morning that Hainsey had been traded here from Carolina for a second-round draft pick in 2017 and minor league forward Danny Kristo, the team announced Trevor Daley would miss six weeks with arthroscopic surgery on his left knee
This, of course, after Olli Maatta was lost for six weeks with a broken hand last Wednesday.
Hopefully nobody told poor Hainsey that Justin Schultz is returning from a concussion and Kris Letang is now on injury No. 4 this season.
Nevertheless, there’s likely little that could diminish Hainsey’s excitement for this opportunity.
“Not having a great opportunity like this for so long, it’s something to get pretty excited about,” Hainsey said.
In Hainsey, the Penguins get a 6-foot-3, 210-pound left shot who will be among the bigger bodies on their back end. Also, if his league-wide reputation serves, one the most likable. His 79 hits led Hurricanes defensemen, and his 92 blocked shots ranked third.
Hainsey’s also proven to be durable; he’s 56 for 56 in games played so far this season, with decent enough offensive production — four goals and 14 points.
Previous stops on his NHL resume include Montreal, Columbus, Atlanta and Winnipeg before winding up in Raleigh, N.C.
“We know he’s a mobile guy who has good size who has a long reach,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “He defends well. We think he makes a good first pass. He can help us get out of our end zone. We think he plays a style that can fit into our group. We think that he brings a skill set that’s complementary to some of the guys we have. He can kill penalties for us. I think he can take a load off some of our players in that regard. He brings a lot to the table. We think he’s going to make us a better team.”
Hainsey averaged 22:20 of ice time in Carolina, with 3:03 of that coming shorthanded. After learning of the trade and doing some preliminary research on his new team, Hainsey is eager to help out on the penalty kill.
Entering Thursday’s games, the Penguins ranked 21st at 80.3 percent. Carolina, meanwhile, was second at 86.3.
“The No. 1 job is going to be getting the puck to this great group of forwards as quick as possible, supporting them moving up the ice,” Hainsey said. “If I can do that and get these guys on their way, we’ll be in good shape.
“I’ve been lucky to be part of a pretty strong penalty kill down here in Carolina the last three years. If that’s something I can help out with, I’ll certainly be excited to do that.”
How it came together
Carolina will eat half of Hainsey’s $2.833 million cap hit, something general manager Jim Rutherford said was absolutely necessary to make the deal happen.
Rutherford has maintained his stance of feeling no urgency to do anything, but allowed Thursday that Daley’s injury may have been the final straw.
“I felt a little more urgency with all these injuries on defense,” Rutherford said.
The communication wasn’t difficult, either, as Rutherford and Hurricanes GM Ron Francis — whom Rutherford gave his front-office start — talk regularly.
“He’s a real character guy,” Rutherford said of Hainsey, whom he signed in Carolina. “He’ll fit into our room good. We were looking to add an experienced defenseman. He has lots of experience. He probably doesn’t have to play in the same situation here as he did in Carolina. He’s a good penalty killer. That’s an area where we’d like to improve a little bit. He can skate, move the puck and should be able to fit into our system.”
Hainsey arrived at PNC Arena around 10 a.m. Thursday, and Francis pulled him off to the side to tell him he’d been traded.
Since the Hurricanes were off Wednesday, Hainsey said he worked out anyway before packing up his equipment, saying his goodbyes and grabbing lunch.
After visiting Alexa, he packed his personal belongings and flew to Pittsburgh. Hainsey plans to take a physical Friday morning and practice at Heinz Field later in the day.
His debut will be Saturday, in the Penguins’ Stadium Series game, outside against the Flyers.
“I wasn’t aware of it until after the fact,” Hainsey said. “I knew there was an outdoor game coming up. I didn’t realize that it would the first game out of the chute here with the practice and everything. Certainly a pretty cool way to get things started.”
And just think: It’s not even playoff time yet.
“I think it’s a breath of fresh air for a player,” Sullivan said. “To a certain extent, it’s a new start. He has an opportunity to come in and be a part of a team that has high expectations of itself. I think that is exciting for a player. We really think Ron is going to help us become a better team.”